NBA Playoffs: How the #4 Seed could be huge for the 76ers playoff run
After finishing as the top seed in the Eastern Conference last season, the Philadelphia 76ers wrapped up the 2021-22 regular season last Sunday, securing the fourth seed in the East heading into the playoffs this year.
Sure, finishing as the lowest seed to host a home playoff series might not look fantastic on paper, but after everything the Sixers have went through this season and what Joel Embiid has accomplished there’s really nothing to be upset about.
On top of that, the path to the Eastern Conference Finals looks to be shaping up in the 76ers favor as they prepare for game one against the Raptors on Saturday at 6pm in South Philadelphia.
Drawing the Raptors as a first-round opponent is far from ideal. Toronto put together a scorching hot run to finish the season that effectively boosted them from a play-in tournament team to the fifth seed in the East. The Raptors rattled off 15 wins in their final 18 games, a stretch that included two wins over the 76ers. Toronto won the season series with the Sixers 3-1, a stat line many are pointing towards to foreshadow a potential heavyweight bout in the first round.
The Raptors are your prototypical scrappy, defensive-minded team that has gotten great production from new faces. Currently, Toronto carries five guys on their roster who finished the regular season averaging above 15 points a game, including rookie phenom Scottie Barnes. Throw in some deadeye shooting from Chris Boucher and Precious “Taken a pick before Maxey” Achiuwa off the bench and the Raptors are a very formidable first round opponent.
A Sixers-Raptors series is also much more difficult when Matisse Thybulle won’t be eligible for any game in Toronto. Considering the last time ‘Tise played the Raptors he recorded four blocks and three steals his absence on the defensive end could prove problematic for a Sixers team that already struggles on defense and has a very thin bench unit.
The Rest of the Field
The NBA Play-In Tournament started last night, with the Brooklyn Nets defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Nets will now hold the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, meaning they will now face the second seeded Boston Celtics. Tonight, the Hornets and Hawks will play and the winner will play Cleveland on Friday to determine the eighth seed in the East.
The eighth seed will face the Miami Heat in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. The Sixers are on that side of the bracket, so once they get past the first round, their second round opponent will be the Heat or one of the three teams in the Hornets, Hawks, Cavaliers if they pull off the upset against Miami.
With Boston narrowly grabbing the second spot, that puts the Bucks into the three seed for the playoffs. They’ll match up against a Bulls team that couldn’t grab a game on them all season long, but the important note for the 76ers isn’t the matchup, it is the fact they are now also on the other side of the Eastern Conference playoff bracket. They will not have to face the Nets, Celtics, or Bucks until one of them advances to the Eastern Conference Finals.
76ers Playoff Run Outlook
With all of that in mind, how does the run for the 76ers look? Well, if you get past a series with the Raptors you match up with the winner of the Heat versus the eight-seed. Many believe that Miami is fraudulent, and I would consider them a much better matchup than any of the three teams talked about prior.
The Bucks are the defending champs and have Giannis playing at an MVP level. The Celtics are heading into the playoffs as the hottest team in the East, despite a worse roster on paper. Finally, the Nets with Kyrie available for all games of the series are potential championship contenders. All three of those teams won’t match up with the 76ers until the final playoff series out of the East.
The Sixers still have their work cut out for them with a grueling first series and a matchup against the Eastern regular-season champion Heat looming in the distance. This is by no means me guaranteeing the 76ers reach an ECF for the first time since 2001, but a positive outlook on the path to success for Joel Embiid and company.
Mandatory Credit: Mark Blinch.